Naturalization is the process by which a permanent resident becomes a US citizen. An individual must be at least 18 years of age to apply for naturalization. However, some children, below the age of 18, become US citizen automatically, either at birth, or through the later actions of a parent who is or becomes a US citizen. This last group- requiring the actions of a parent- is extremely complicated and often ties officers, attorney and even immigration judges into knots. We review the most common situations briefly:

Naturalization. This is the process by which a permanent resident become a US citizen. This requires: (1) that you are at least 18 years of age (2) that you are a permanent resident for 5 years- reduced to 3 years if you are married and living with a US citizen spouse (3) that you have been physically present in the US for at least 50% of the required residency period (4) that you are sufficiently conversant in the English language (5) that you are knowledgeable about US history and government and (6) that you are a person of good moral character. This last requirement is often a matter of discretion based on a history of serious immigration violations, criminal convictions, or other prohibited conduct.  A person convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990 is permanently barred from becoming a US citizen.

The process requires an application and an interview which will normally be conducted in the English language. In certain circumstances, the English language requirement may be dispensed with for disabled individuals or for older individuals who have been permanent residents for long periods of time.

Citizenship at Birth. The law currently provides that a child born aboard will be a US citizen at birth if

  • Both parents are US citizens and one parent previously resided in the US or
  • One parent is a US citizen and the citizen parent was physically present in the US 5 years prior to the child’s birth two of which were after the age of 14.

Citizenship of Children After Birth. This will occur in a variety of ways:

  • A child admitted to the US as a permanent resident can apply immediately for citizenship if
    • One parent is a US citizen by birth or naturalization
    • The child is under 18 at the time of the parent’s naturalization
    • The child is living in the US in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent
  • A child born abroad after November 14, 1986, to a citizen parent who was not born in the US may be a US citizen under certain circumstances. This is a very complicated issue involving when and how long the US parent lived in the US. This is an extremely complicated calculation that will depend on the particular facts of the case.